As Christmas approached it was time to take one last trip of the year, completing an epic 5,000km adventure from Lilongwe, round southern Africa and back again, to find some more hidden gems!
First up, a night in Tete. Not where many would consider a holiday destination but a great stop over when heading to the sandy beaches of Mozambique! It is around 230km from Blantyre and 350km from Lilongwe so approximately a 3-5-hour drive, or if you have a bigger budget you can take a 50-minute flight. Tete connects well with the rest of Mozambique but requires an overnight stay. The city has some good restaurants with spicy Portuguese flavors and some clean and comfortable places to spend the night.
After an early start and with my lovely lady in tow, I was on the road before sunrise, heading to Vilanculos. The drive is long – it takes around 10 hours and we don’t recommend it, (however we needed the car so the drive for us was necessary). We would definitely suggest flying, it is reasonably cheap and quick from Tete to Maputo.
First stop was Santorini, this was my second visit here in the past 12 months (that should tell you something!). Santorini is still just as elegant and beautiful as I remember, a gorgeous lodge with the addition of the amazing new management couple, Steegan and Jason who are ex. Robin Pope Safaris who we know from their time in Malawi.
It is definitely worth considering the Santorini & Chilo Gorge (Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe) 8-night package, it combines the best of safari and the best of beach in one incredible trip with great value flights and full board accommodation (prices from US$3,650*pp sharing!)
On our first evening we took a walk behind Santorini to climb the dunes and watch the sun set on the first real day of the long adventure ahead of us. We got involved in some incredible fishing as well, to make the most of the activities available and two of the other guests caught 14 fish between them (Barracuda/ King Mackeral and Bonito)! We were all really impressed with the professionalism of the guide and the quality of the boats and gear available. We made the most of our time there by waking up for the incredible sunrises (ask for room 3 it has the best views), morning SUP sessions in the crystal clear waters and both had a massage in the ever so impressive Spa to relax us after these very hard couple of days…
Next up, we moved on to Bahia Mar (still in Vilanculos), which is a good value option for those looking to save on pennies but not compromise on their holiday. Bahia Mar is on a busier stretch of beach so there are quite a few other lodges in the area giving it a festive and lively vibe. The rooms are modern and comfortable and the presidential suite is very impressive indeed!
With fresh seafood scarce in the landlocked haven of Malawi, we were excited to treat ourselves to the delicious daily catch, served by their friendly and accommodating team – and we were not disappointed!
Now, as you may know, the Vilanculos beach is very tidal and not always the postcard image you get at the islands, however each lodge here arrange incredible day trips to the nearby islands and sandbanks for their guests, with picnics, watersports and beach fun for the whole family.
My beloved Lotte from Safari Design is a HUGE &Beyond fan, so getting here was a must. Our pilot met us on arrival at Vilanculos Airport and before we knew it, we were crossing the Indian ocean to &Beyond Benguerra in style… As usual a breathtakingly beautiful flight.
Our time here was fantastic. The food, service, scuba diving, rooms, plunge pools, and complimentary champagne to name a few, were all world class – &Beyond certainly do live up to their name of going above &Beyond!
As you might have guessed by now, I am a scuba diving enthusiast to say the least, and was incredibly impressed by the diving here off Benguerra Island – it was truly fantastic, we saw Dugongs and dolphins on the way to the dives… and had an abundance of special marine life on the double dives. Some of the highlights were turtles, Honeycomb Moray Eels, huge schools of bigeyes and snapper, lion fish, puffer fish, bat fish, Moorish Idos, sharks and much more… so if you’re a super scuba fan, this place is worth a trip.
Venturing further south, we moved on to Massinga Beach. Perfectly located half way between Vilanculos and Barra/ Tofo, it was a quick 2hr drive before we were met by the Massinga Beach driver on the main road. An interesting 20-minute drive through sand and palm trees, we were soon welcomed to Massinga Beach Lodge with a warm welcome from the owner Suzanne and were shown to our stunning room. The rooms are modern, with their own plunge pools, private deck and incredible views of the beach. Massinga is the only lodge in the area and with a private beach all to yourselves. It is a slightly bigger lodge than our usual style with 30 rooms, but it was very obvious right from the outset that this does not affect the personal touch.
The lodge has a fantastic bar, deck and swimming pool area with incredible views which we made good use of, and also has a pool bar area on the beach where they usually host their lunches.
Fishing as an activity can be outsourced nearby and a dive school is opening up in these untouched wild waters shortly… watch this space!!
The food, service and location made this place a pleasant stopover to break up the journey between Vilanculos and Tofo. A highlight was learning the coconut cutting class and learning all about the various uses for the different parts of a coconut – in food, drinks, health products and other practical purposes! Let me introduce you to my new venture, ‘Coconuts-in-Style’… just kidding! Our final sunset was spent from our pool soaking up the most incredible views and a bottle of bubbly… my better half is more of a bubbly lady than a beer lass!
Next stop… Tofo, accessible by flying into Vilanculos and driving down about 4.5 hours. Tofo is great value, has beautiful beaches and has some of the best scuba diving I have ever experienced. On one dive we had dolphins, 4 turtles, 2 mantas (within touching distance!), many morays, thousands of schools of fish and much, much more… you have to break the shore line to get onto the water so it’s a bit of an adventure getting to the dive spots, but totally worth it when you do. Check out the chart below of sightings in the last year… VERY impressive, especially the whale sharks (which we unfortunately did not see). But a good reason to go back hey…!
We did our dives with Liquid Divers, and they are the real McCoy. Their equipment is new, they are professional, eco friendly, with lots of exciting green and conservation programmes and events on the go – ticking all the right boxes for us, that’s for sure! They also have great value accommodation on site, but for those wanting a little more luxury, have a look below. If this is of interest check out the free diving festival in April.
Sava Dunes – An amazing, remote location (which is unique for Tofo) on top of the dunes overlooking the ocean. Very eco friendly with solar power and basic but comfortable rooms. The lodge has an amazing creative touch and décor, and very friendly and helpful staff. The pool is quite small but I personally loved the way it’s merged with the bar, so you can swim up to your barstool and order some exotic cocktail (the way all holidays should be spent). The food was good and there was with a good selection of wine on offer…which kept Lotte happy as she LOVES good wine (a trait of hers that works nicely in my favour!).
This is the kind of place you go to and stay at, as it is a bit of a mission to get in and out of due to the dunes and thick sand but is a great place to relax and enjoy the views, and watch the whales and dolphins swim past.
Eclectic: This for us was a special little boutique lodge; boasting stunning views, incredible service and food, it’s far enough away from Tofo to get away but close enough to go in for dives etc.… and it’s great value for money to boot.
The food was up there with the best we had in Mozambique with a very sophisticated menu, complimented by the beautiful décor, and impressive ocean views. The pool (merged nicely into the deck) is also pretty awesome and a perfect place to sip on some vino and watch the sunset. Our rooms were not the biggest but kept in line with the high standards of the lodge, with great décor, very comfortable beds and our own plunge pool and ocean view.
They have a more budget house next door which is perfect for families or groups and they’re even looking to convert the owners’ house into a luxury house for families etc. Watch this space…
We said our sad farewells to Tofo, and headed 3.5hrs south to overnight at Naara Eco Lodge before heading through to Sabi Sands and Manyelete NP. I will elaborate on our time spent in South Africa another time but for now I’m skipping ahead to our next destination, Zimbabwe.
Beit Bridge gets some bad press however we are thrilled to report that the Zim side of the border was an absolute pleasure. Zimbabwe Tourism now have people based there to welcome you and help tourists through the border as quickly as possible. The road was good and only about a 4hr drive from Beit Bridge to the remarkable Gonarezhou National Park.
Chilo Gorge, Gonarezhou. We loved this place from the minute we arrived. The staff were very welcoming, the food was excellent, the unique location the stuff of fairytales, and the guiding and game drives were brilliant. We only saw 3 lions, but on the plus side, we did not see ANY other vehicles. The sunset and sunrise views from the room and the restaurant deck are incredible, we saw elephants crossing the river at sunset and sunrise every day. The park also boasts incredible birdlife, great variety in antelope and a real wild Africa feel to it. I think this is a perfect place to finish your safari after having had a ‘cat-fest’ in Mana Pools and Hwange.
If you fancy combining Chilo Gorge with a Mozambique beach wind-down, don’t forget the fantastic 8-night package I mentioned earlier, combining with Santorini in Mozambique.
Alternatively, there is also a fabulous ‘Ultimate Zimbabwe’ package (with 4 free flights!). Calling at The Hide – Hwange National Park, Changa Safari Camp – Matusadona National Park (Lake Kariba), John’s Camp – Mana Pools National Park and Chilo Gorge – Gonarezhou National Park. There’s no better way to experience the best of Zimbabwe and for great value.
Next on our agenda – Nyanga National Park, Zimbabwe’s answer to the Scottish Highlands. From Chilo we left early, and had a pleasant 4hr drive (on a brilliant new road) to Nyanga, where we rented a beautiful little cottage for Christmas with some friends. This area is beyond stunning with unapparelled views of rolling hills and thick forest from what feels like the top of the world, inspiring your imagination to conjure up images of the slinking leopards and other creatures that inhabit this unpopulated wilderness.
The best lodge in this area (so I hear), is the relatively new Aberfoyle Lodge in the Vumba Mountains. Sadly, we did not have time to check this out, as we were too busy getting festive, eating and drinking far too much (who me? Never!). We did however take many a drive and walk, exploring the beautiful mountains and rivers. Truly an astonishingly beautiful part of the world.
From Nyanga we headed back into Mozambique through the Mutare border post which was a pleasure. We joined our friends from Amalinda, at a beautiful self-catering lodge called Dream Catchers, Inhassoro. We then revisited Rio Azul for a few days before heading back via Tete to Malawi.
A superb adventure which saw us taking home plenty of memories as well as the all-important information and first-hand experience that takes our expertise above and beyond; allowing us to filter the good from the outstanding and ensure you get the best value and best experience out there.
Would you like to recreate this itinerary or visit one of the lodges? Contact us to make it happen!